Here I come to save the day!

 

Do we take the simple function of saving for granted?

The other day I was replaying a childhood classic, Sonic 2. Ah, Sonic, you old devil, how time hasn’t aged you a day. The gameplay is still as fast and as enjoyable as ever, the tunes still set my toes ‘a tapping, and although this is a game that’s over 16 years old, it still looks reasonably good. Even after all these years, it still knows how to tickle those gaming happy-sacks.

I was up to level 8 (Metropolis), but by this point all the emerald collecting and baddie smashing had taken its affect, and I was starting to grow drowsy. So, I do what I normally do at quarter past four in the afternoon, and prepare to save-up and get ready for bed. But at that moment, I remembered something truly shocking. In Sonic 2, you can’t save your game! All those hours wasted, with no returnable reward or return. I’ve either got to keep playing, or quit and start all over again. So I did what any self respecting games journalist would do, and cried myself to sleep.

It’s strange to think that these days we just expect a game to be saveable. No matter what we do, we can always replay a section at the next convenience; as long as we remembered to press save. Actually, these days you don’t even have to do that, as auto-save takes care of everything. All we have to do is turn on and play. We’ve never had it so easy!

But when did the simple function of saving first come about? Well it has been available on PC games since before time began, with that extra hard drive space really coming in handy. You could also save your game via a ‘save disk’, resulting in a stack of etched-upon floppies. But what about the joyful console? When could you actually return to a certain point in a cartridge-based game, without having to cheat or leaving your console on all night, resulting in a house fire?

The first console game to have a usable saving feature was the 1987 title, The Legend of Zelda, on the NES. For the first time, gamers could stop playing past their bedtime, without the loss of any progress or gains. As soon as they got home from school the next day, Zelda would be right where they left him. That may not sound like much, but back in 1987, it was a big deal.

The Legend of Zelda used a simple ‘slot’ saving system, where you saved into one of three, slots. This meant that you could have three games going on at once, instead of just one. This was an easy, simple, and quick way of saving and loading your game. But does anyone remember the system where you had to jot down a code, which had to be re-entered every time you started? Man, what an infuriating task that was, especially when having to scroll down through a chain of letters, numbers and symbols.

Some games still use the stop-gap or ‘save points’ saving system. This is where you can only save in certain premeditated areas, such as hotels, churches, typewriters, back-up stations or your gaming character’s home. This is a clever way of keeping the action tense and challenging, without letting the gamer take the easy way out and save after every footstep. But it can be immensely frustrating. Anyone who’s died inches away from a saving location will know want I’m talking about. There’s also the auto-save function, where the game will save after a certain time has passed, or a challenge, section or level has been completed. This is probably the best system for keeping a game flowing, although it does have a few flaws. Again, anyone who has been shot, just split-seconds after an auto-save happens, will know the pain.

So have we taken saving for granted, and have games become too easy because of saving? Well in a way, we have taken saving for granted, as it’s just become normal for you to save a game. But it should be considered that today’s games are far longer than those of the late eighties and early nineties. Whereas you could complete Sonic 2 in a couple of hours, most of today’s games have a standard playtime of 12-15 hours. Also, most games today feature some form of narrative or plot, whereas the games of yesteryear were just arcade bashers that were just level after level of action. If a game was released today, that didn’t allow you to save, there’d be uproar….and lack of sleep related deaths. And have games become too easy? No, of course they haven’t. It’s just that now we can break them down into more manageable chunks.

Saving is part and parcel of gaming, and to a certain extent it always has been. These days, we can be thankful that it’s a lot easier to do, and more readily available and manageable. Gone are the days of typing in codes, scribbling down passwords on discarded envelopes and digging through piles of save disks. Now we can just concentrate on the gaming itself, and let the computer keep track of what’s happened. But why you couldn’t save Sonic 2 is beyond me ……

 

Scott Tierney

 

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